- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In the midst of a rancorous health care debate and a sustained period of declining poll numbers, President Obama is seeking help from an unexpected constituency — America’s schoolchildren.

And they better pay attention to his request: They may get graded on the assignment.

The White House announced Wednesday that the president plans to tape a presidential address to public schoolchildren around the country to air at noon Tuesday. Along with advanced word of the speech, the U.S. Department of Education last week distributed a “menu of classroom activities” to teachers that aims to turn the speech into one of Mr. Obama’s teachable moments.

Among the activities, the government suggests that students from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.” The material includes a suggestion that teachers then collect the letters and redistribute them at a later time “to make students accountable to their goals.”

Another task, recommended for younger students immediately after listening to the speech, is to engage in a discussion about what “the President wants us to do.”

“Does the speech make you want to do anything?” is one suggested question for the discussion. “Are we able to do what the President is asking of us?”

The packet of activities was sent out electronically with an Aug. 26 electronic letter from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Mr. Duncan encourages school administrators to air the presidential broadcast, which was timed to coincide with the start of school for most of the country.

The educational materials do not mention any political issue, and the speech is not expected to stray from a clear message encouraging children to excel.

“The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning,” Mr. Duncan said in his letter.

Of the activities, Mr. Duncan added: “These are ideas developed by and for teachers to help engage students and stimulate discussion on the importance of education in their lives.”

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